Artist Draws Portraits Using the Ashes of Her Subjects

Raven J. Collins thinks she may be the only artist in the world to brush the raw ashes of a deceased person onto a pencil portrait.

Using ashes as a medium is a growing trend in the artwork, but while some are mixing it with paint to create abstract works, moulding them into bizarre sculptures, or even compressing and using it as pencil filling (like lead), Raven Collins uses the ashes to create commission portraits of the deceased, whether they be human or animal. She’s only been doing it for a while, but ash-portraits already make up 90% of her business.

As cremation becomes the more popular option in the funeral industry, the number of choices of what to do with the ashes also increases. Some people prefer to keep them in a fancy urn, others spill them into the ocean or over a peaceful pasture, but more and more people opt to incorporate their loved-ones’ remains into various artworks. Artists like Raven sometimes get referrals from funeral homes, but most of their advertising is word of mouth and online exposure.

Collins’ idea was inspired by a tragic even that occurred two years ago. Her nephews Gavin, 3, and Sebastian, 1, died during a fire in Tampa, and even though she had been drawing portraits since high-school, the boys’ portraits were the hardest the 37-year-old artist ever had to do. In her suffering, she came up with the idea of incorporating the deceased’s ashes into their portraits. Her tragic experience helps Raven Collins to connect with her clients and better understand what they want in a portrait.

Normally she receives a small amount of ashes in the mail, which she puts into a mortar and grinds to a fine powder, using a pestle. All it takes is a table spoon or less, then she adds a liquid to create a paste which she spreads over a drawn portrait, using a Q-tip. They can be spread anywhere in the portrait, in the hair of the subject, on a lapel, somewhere in the corner, but never on the face.

Prices of her ash-portraits range between $200 and $300, depending on size and whether the client wants colors to be used. Check out, for more samples of her unusual art.


Story via Tampa Bay Online